Thursday, February 23, 2017

Happy Accidents Along the Way

“It’s never a good idea to organize society in a way that depletes the energy of half the population.” - Susan Cain

Happy accidents.  I can’t think of a better phrase to define my work this school year.  One of the many struggles that I have had this school year is creating a space in which each type of learner is consistently engaged, challenged, comfortable, and progressing.  Time and time again I have designed activities and experiences that are effective at engaging some but not others.  When I redesign, the reception is vice versa.  UGH!  Why can’t I figure this out?!?  Some students want to talk, talk, talk. While others seem to prefer to lose a limb rather than say single word from 7:50-3:00!  Seriously, I am beyond over the head nodding and shoulder shrugging responses and the seemingly endless wait time for a response to simple questions. I have tried strategy after strategy after strategy to get reluctant students engaged and speaking, but had not been able to yield any game changing results... until recently.

About 2 weeks ago, I attended a 6 hour GT update training (that I really did not have time to do) on the social/emotional needs of highly able students.  Part of that training included Susan Cain's work on introversion.  About a year ago, a friend of mine introduced me to her book and, and last year, we shifted how we worked with students that exhibited characteristics of introversion.  However, even armed with that information, this year I failed to honor this type of learner in my classroom.

Full disclosure, after reflecting a bit,  I realized that I was so hell bent on creating a visibly and audibly collaborative learning space because... voice, collaboration, creativity, active creation, interaction, movement, energy, sharing, in my mind, are the hallmarks of learning and effective teaching. If an observer comes in and doesn’t SEE or HEAR this then they won't know…and that means I...

WRONG!  And, shame on me for losing focus of my priority as an educator… my students.

“I’m not saying abolish group work- I think there’s a time and a place for people to come together and exchange ideas, but let’s restore the respect we once had for solitude.  And we need to be much more mindful of the way we come together.”
- Susan Cain

Voice, collaboration, creativity, interaction, energy, and sharing do not HAVE to be overtly visible or audible to be effective.  These are 100% non-negotiables for me as a classroom educator, but we can provide opportunities for these elements in ways that appeal to all learner...introverts, extroverts, and ambiverts.  

Well, that reminder of Susan Cain’s work in a GT training 2 Saturdays ago propelled me into a committed relationship with Its Learning and, unintentionally, on a path to becoming mostly paperless. Thus far, it seems that opportunities to engage in all of the aforementioned non-negotiables can be provided through an LMS.  It has been about 2 weeks since shifting almost exclusively to the LMS and the head nodding and shoulder shrugging responses have transformed to some pretty insightful discussion board posts, open ended responses, new relationships, and ….get ready… SPEAKING (just to ask for tech or navigation help, but I will take what I can get)!

More on the paperless journey coming soon.

Moving into the Realm of Real World Problem Solving

Our introduction to the real world problem solving process came via a lesson on the Shrinking of the Aral Sea (handout and image resource).  This resource is a bit dated, but I appreciated its simplicity so I used it as a model design this activity. The first half of the activity was conducted whole group broken into 3- 10 minute chunks that include small group dialogue, whole group sharing, and class decision making.  

The second half of the activity was comprised of students working in small groups or pairs to develop 2 solutions and 2 consequences for each solution, calculating a budget, selecting the solution with the consequences they were willing to accept, posting their solution on an Its Learning discussion board, and commenting on at least 2 other posts.  Students were also invited to respond to comments made or challenges to their solutions. Lastly, the students were provided with sentence stems to aid them in formulating their discussion board comments and questions.

  • The process was messy, loud, and productive.
  • The process produced heated, competitive, and meaningful exchanges during the class decision making process.

  • As the facilitator, the process unveiled lurking habits and perceptions held by students that are a barriers to authentic collaboration. This is something that I am still reflecting on and searching for strategies to counteract. Time is not on my side.
  • I learned that I need to provide instruction on how to communicate in an academic or professional space.  I am going to employ Accountability Talk resources to build a mini lesson to address this issue.
  • Everyone’s voice and ideas were shared and viewed in a seamless and self paced manner thanks to the discussion board tool. Some images from the discussion boards can be viewed via this link.
  • Student to student interaction was seamlessly increased 10 fold (or, just a lot) regardless of ability or language acquisition levels.
  • The standard for quality and sense of confidence in questioning and challenging was set by the students. Luckily, the hyper contentious and motivated got to the discussion board posting finish line first;-)

Next step...
  • Definitely provide 2-3 more opportunities to engage in the real world problem solving process.
  • Mini lesson appropriate and productive ways to have honest, challenging, and meaningful dialogue.
  • Address observations regarding unveiled habits and perceptions of our purpose in the "Areas We Need to Improve" portion of the 4th 6 Weeks Recap.
  • Incorporate the creation of a product or content as part of the assessment.
  • Incorporate reflection on the process.

Talking about plants

As part of our science curriculum we are discovering how the plants grow. The students were amazed when the first plants began to sprout. All the learning can be shared in an interview using Seesaw showing their plants and talking about all the different things they learn about the plants.

 Como parte de nuestro currículo de ciencias estamos descubriendo cómo crecen las plantas. Los estudiantes se sorprendieron cuando las primeras plantas empezaron a brotar. Todo el aprendizaje puede ser compartido en una entrevista usando Seesaw mostrando sus plantas y hablando de todas las cosas diferentes que aprenden sobre las plantas

Thursday, February 16, 2017

An experiment with feedback...

It is community badge presentation eve for the 4th time this school year!  Like with all experiments, there have been a few tweaks made along the way.  Each tweak was born of the priority to make the process as meaningful and impactful as possible for the students with whom I work.  The idea was born of necessity (specifics can be found here).  Four 6 weeks into the process and after constant reflection, I feel comfortable recommending this practice to other educators.

In the process of reflecting on why I was so motivated to implement a seamless, meaningful, and, most importantly, consistently manageable process for providing authentic feedback, I realized that I had not shared some research I while lurking on Twitter in 2013.  That little tweet has been a whispering force that has driven my practice as an educator from the moment I read through it’s linked content.  And, because I am a tweet  hoarder, I have it to share with you:)

“Feedback.  Feedback.  The number one influencer of student learning?  Feedback.  FEEDBACK?  Great! The single most difficult thing to provide meaningfully to 100-120 students at least 10 times per 6 weeks is the one thing that will make the biggest positive difference on their learning.  Well, that’s just grrrrrrreat!”.  That was my initial reaction to this tweeted research.  And, yes, I said it out loud to my computer.  Then, in classic introvert fashion, I went silent and inward, and began an ongoing journey to discovering and creating “how(s)”.

The community badge process was the first scaled “how” in this quest to augment learning via feedback.  Previous to this year most of my work as a special educator was with individual students or very small groups of students, so it was pretty easy to provide consistent feedback in that context.  This year, I am working in a space in which I am both the classroom teacher and the special education teacher so I had the opportunity to experiment with feedback at scale, if you will. I mean, I feel like 110 students in 4 co-teach classes can be considered scale.  Can’t it?

The logistics:

  • Purchased scrapbook paper and put them up on the wall.  6 sheets per class period.
  • I created the badges using  It is free, easy to use, and creates custom badges.  I just copy pasted each badge that I created to a Google doc, stretched it to fit the 8 x 8 space on the doc, and printed them in color.
  • The initial idea to award 2-3 per class period per 6 weeks was abandoned the 1st 6 weeks for 2 reasons.  One, space limitations.  Two, honestly, the students really only had enough time to demonstrate and develop one soft skill at proficiency in such a short period of time.  Part 2, of two, is that I needed time to get to know them and build enough rapport to authentically assess their soft skill acquisition and proficiency.  Part 3, of two, less was more.
  • Then, we changed the name to Learning Community Badges.  I Just felt like the name needed to reflect the purpose and include a encourage action and involvement.
  • At the end of the 1st and 2nd 6 weeks, I selected the badges and presented them to the classes as part of our “looking back to move forward 6 weeks recap”.  
  • The 3rd 6 weeks (and 4th-6th), in the interest in creating opportunities for student voice, the student voted for their badges.  I created a Google Form for each class that included the 19 soft skills and characteristics that I observed the students across all class periods exhibiting at at least minimal proficiency to choose from.  Although, the student voting process went well and I could see that the students valued being included in the selection process, moving forward, I am limiting the number of soft skills to choose from to 2-3 for 2 reasons. One, we had to have a vote off because of 3 way ties.  Two, I think there is value in the teacher providing a short customized list for each class rather than a general list for all the classes.  Here is a link to Google Form for voting for copying.

Well, back to where we started.  It’s Learning Community Badge Eve!  I can’t forget.  Last 6 weeks, I forgot the badges on my printer at home. So, I tried to be slick and leave if off the agenda on the 1st day of the 4th 6 weeks. However, to my surprise, some students in my 4th and 5th periods remembered and asked about their badges. I confessed my transgression and had to endure being mocked with, “Miss, our student heart is broken”.  Oh the shame! LOL!  But, SILVER LINING...I received some authentic feedback on their feelings regarding my first “how” experiment with scaling consistent meaningful feedback in a manageable way.  Would ya look at that?!  Feedback impacted my learning and motivation! Those researchers do know what they are talking about...most of the time😏